Following a controversial 2018 referendum, the Florida Legislature has now passed House Bill 1595. This bill will force every county in the State to elect a Sheriff, who will then be in charge of running the local Police Department.
This will sharply alter the balance of power in Miami-Dade County. They are the only Floridian county without a sheriff, but will now need to elect one in 2025. Its population wasn’t fully on board with the 2018 referendum, and its mayor will need to reshuffle finances to obey the new law.
From the outside, it looks like a power struggle between a conservative state and its most liberal county. But in the middle lie thousands of law enforcement officers and families, who will now need to rethink their safety.
A Sheriff for Miami-Dade County: The Backstory
Miami-Dade County isn’t just Florida’s most populous, but also its most diverse. As one of the State’s economic engines, it has fiercely protected its right to home rule since 1956. Following a 1966 investigation on a Sheriff-led burglary racket, the County abolished the Sheriff’s office.
The power to lead the local Police Department then fell on the Mayor. Ever since most mayors have appointed a Director of Police to run day-to-day operations.
A Controversial Amendment
In 2018, Florida’s Constitutional Revision Commission called a referendum on the State’s Constitution. From the start, the process was mired in political controversy, especially due to its “bundled” nature: rather than putting specific issues on the ballot, it bundled a series of minor or popular reforms with more controversial ones.
For Miami-Dade Police, trouble was hidden inside Amendment 10. Officially, this amendment formalized the existence of a Department of Veterans Affairs. However, it also prohibited counties from abolishing certain offices, including that of the sheriff, and required them to be turned into elected positions.
Amendment 10 managed to get the required 60% approval by the state’s voters. Within Miami-Dade County, however, it fell short of the required threshold.
The County Strikes Back
These results meant that Miami-Dade would lose some of its precious home rule, under the orders of people who lived elsewhere. As a compromise, County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava presented the County Commission with an alternative plan, which would allow her to keep some of her powers as de facto sheriff.
This plan allowed the County to continue maintaining police services in all unincorporated areas, which account for nearly 1 million of the county’s 2.6 million residents. The County Commission approved this plan – but the Florida Sheriffs Association did not.
Instead, they chose to sue the County. After the lawsuit was dismissed, the Florida Legislature passed HB 1595, which destroyed most of Levine’s original plan.
House Bill 1595 – What Will it Really Mean?
Under this bill, each county sheriff will have “exclusive” authority to police all areas under their jurisdiction. This marks a sharp contrast with the local definition, which listed the Sheriff’s responsibilities only as “serving warrants, executing civil processes, and providing courthouse security.”
Florida’s Governor Ron Desantis is expected to sign this bill in the coming few days. There is little reason to expect a veto, especially since Desantis is frequently butting heads with Miami-Dade’s largely liberal officials. Meanwhile, for the Florida Sheriffs Association, this is simply a matter of ensuring the current Constitution is respected, just as it was voted.
By centralizing all police powers under a single Sheriff, HB 1595 will also help cut down on many of the expected costs of Mayor Levine’s original plan. It will cut down on red tape, and allow the Sheriff to execute its own policies with little interference.
What’s Next for Miami Law Enforcement?
Residents of Miami-Dade County will vote for their new sheriff in 2024, and whoever gets elected will take office on the first working day of 2025.
Currently, the three leading candidates for the Sheriff’s Office are:
- Alfredo Ramirez, the current Police Director
- Rickey Mitchell, a funeral home owner
- Ruaman De La Cruz, a police officer with more than 40 years of law enforcement experience.
Whoever wins will not just hold policing powers as they are – they will also have the opportunity to sue the County for additional powers.